Em Dashes Exercise (479)

In each sentence, insert an em dash (—) or two and revise further as needed. Remember that there should be no space between the em dash and adjacent words.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: He was no reader, not of books, anyway.
Correct : He was no reader—not of books, anyway.

The sequence of commas is awkward, implying that they frame a parenthetical phrase rather than signaling a modifying phrase followed by word that modifies that phrase. Replacing the first comma with an em dash signals that what follows is a digression from the initial clause.

2.
Original: He aimed his flashlight right at their heads, or rather at a point just beyond.
Correct : He aimed his flashlight right at their heads—or, rather, at a point just beyond.

"Rather" is an interjection that should be set off from the rest of the sentence, but because it’s part of a larger break-off phrase (starting with "or"), that entire phrase should be set off from the rest of the sentence, and "rather" is best set off with a pair of commas.

3.
Original: The designer named his new swimsuit design after an island, an atoll, to be precise, where American scientists had just detonated a nuclear bomb.
Correct : The designer named his new swimsuit design after an island—an atoll, to be precise—where American scientists had just detonated a nuclear bomb.

The interjected identification of the type of island should be set off with a pair of em dashes to indicate that it is a sudden digression from the sentence, but "to be precise" should be set off with a comma from "an atoll" as well.

4.
Original: The right clothes made it possible, easy in fact, to journey far beyond one’s original circumstances.
Correct : The right clothes made it possible—easy, in fact—to journey far beyond one’s original circumstances.

"Easy in fact," as an interjection, should be separated from the rest of the sentence with em dashes, but in addition, the tag phrase "in fact" must be set off from "easy."

5.
Original: Previously, online advertisers could pique surfers’ interests with display ads, that is with the power of suggestion, but now Internet users largely ignore those ads.
Correct : Previously, online advertisers could pique surfers’ interests with display ads—that is, with the power of suggestion—but now Internet users largely ignore those ads.

The interjection "that is with the power of suggestion" should be set off from the rest of the sentence, but the tag phrase "that is" (which could, alternatively, follow the rest of the interjection rather than precede it) must be distinct from the phrase that follows.

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